What follows is Cal Performances´response to my Audio Prayer. Although it's a thoughtful response, it avoids administrative responsibility. Everyone involved in the music-making process must insist on the highest quality audio for all public events. Hire people with ears and give them the power to educate those in need and to enforce audio performance standards. Audio quality control should be a normal part of the music performance scene.


Dr. Pellegrino:

Thank you for your letter of May 14. It may not surprise you that we sometimes receive letters from patrons concerned about the very issue you address. As you are a professional in the field, it be easier for you to understand the situation.

As you know, we are a presenting organization (as opposed to a producing organization such as the San Francisco Symphony, Berkeley Repertory Theater, etc.). As such we engage in contractual agreements with various artists to present their program at Cal Performances. Almost without exception such agreements stipulate absolute artistic control by the artist - control that extends to the design and engineering of reinforced sound. At best the presenter has some control over the decibel limits of a concert, but even that is difficult to enforce.

For most events requiring sound reinforcement, the engineer travels with, is employed by, and takes direction from the artist. This point must be made very clear. Cal Performances´ audio technicians do not necessarily operate the sound equipment. Our technicians generally run "house" sound equipment for events that require tape playback, area reinforcement, or general public address. In other words, Cal Performances´audio technicians operate sound equipment generally when the focus of the event is not sound reinforced music.

I am very familiar and equally frustrated with the problem; it is an industry-wide dilemma that similar presenting organizations face. We walk a tight line between the patron´s comfort and artistic expression. You are absolutely correct in your assessment of the typical sound technician´s hearing range; despite this evidence, it is difficult to impress upon them the acoustical characteristics of the facility or the temperament of the audience.

If an artist does not provide their own equipment, we typically engage a profession sound company. In such a case, our relationship with the sound company has allowed us to exercise a modicum of sound control; an engineer familiar with the house and the equipment is in a better position to advise the touring engineer. They speak the same language. On the other hand, if the sound equipment is brought with the touring company (as is often the case), we have little control over the quality of the sound except to advise the engineer that complaints such as yours do occur and that the acoustics of the hall may call for a different mix approach.

Most musicians are not cognizant of the depth of the problem; they typically receive an on-stage monitor mix, which uses a different engineer. One ray of hope has been the increased presence of sound designers, particularly in dance and theater touring shows. Although sound designers for music events are still rare, I would expect that letters such as yours would be proof enough of their necessity.

I hope that you will continue to enjoy our season; I value your patronage and appreciate your comments on this matter.


Mark Heiser
General Manager
Cal Performances
University of California at Berkeley

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